Originally posted on Inside Smashville  |  Last updated 4/8/12

By Seth Lake

Heading into the final game of the regular season, the Nashville Predators sat and watched the Chicago Blackhawks defeat the Detroit Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena on Saturday afternoon to secure the fourth seed in the Western Conference and home-ice advantage in their first round matchup with the Red Wings in the 2012 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs beginning on Wednesday.

Lindback was injured during Saturday night's contest.

With their playoff seeding and home-ice secured, the Predators took the opportunity to rest regulars Mike Fisher, Martin Erat, Sergei Kostitsyn, Hal Gill, and Francis Bouillon and gave Anders Lindback the start in nets in their final game. Getting contributions from all four forward lines and a goal from Roman Josi on the backend, the Predators used a 34 save performance from Lindback to roll over the Avalanche by a 6-1 final score in the finale. 

  • Lineup Shuffling Ends in Final Game – Since around the All-Star Break this season the Predators have struggled to find the right combinations up front juggling lines due to injuries, performance, and player acquisitions throughout the second half of the season. With four players being added to the roster in the past six weeks, it was inevitable that the Predators would go through this period of change, but while sitting out a whole line last night, Predators head coach Barry Trotz appears to have found his preferred combinations moving forward keeping together three lines for the second night in a row and using a line of hungry, young forwards shuffled out of the lineup in recent weeks as his 4th last night. It worked beautifully with all four lines contributing at both ends throughout the night and allowing the coaching staff to divide the time evenly across the board. 
  • Predators Get Results Early – With their top scoring line getting the night off, the focus for the night was on playing “Predator Hockey” coming at Colorado with four lines, playing simple hockey, and taking advantage of their opportunities. That’s exactly what the Predators got with all three scoring lines contributing in the first period beginning with David Legwand finishing a feed from Gabriel Bourque just 3:59 into the contest. After allowing the Avalanche to tie the game on a defensive miscue, Craig Smith gave the Predators back the lead with 3:51 remaining in the period, and Patric Hornqvist finished the scoring in the first with just 1.2 seconds left on the clock deflecting Kevin Klein’s shot past Colorado goalie J.S. Giguere to send the Predators to the locker room with a 3-1 lead. While the Avalanche fought hard and outshot the Predators 31-17 over the final 40:00, the Predators used tight defense and some timely goaltending to preserve the lead the rest of the way.  When scoring first this season, the Predators finished the regular season with a 35-3-4 record. 
  • Lindback Settles In, But Has to Leave – Getting his 10th start of the season, Anders Lindback appeared to battle the puck a little bit early dropping a few pucks and leaving rebounds around the crease a couple of times, but he quickly settled in after allowing Matt Duchene to tie the game 8:09 into the first period and was on his way to the win when Chuck Kobasew pushed Ryan Ellis over Lindback sprawled out on the ice making a save early in the third period forcing him from the game due to injury and Pekka Rinne into action the rest of the way. Lindback finished the night with 34 saves on 35 shots and Rinne went a perfect 10 for 10 in 17:46 of action, but the concern after the game was on Lindback’s status heading into the playoffs.  Officially, he is listed as day to day with an upper body injury. It will be interesting to see if Chet Pickard or Jeremy Smith is recalled from Milwaukee on Monday should Lindback need the rest to recover.
  • Youngsters Take Advantage of Opportunity – Showing no rust after not seeing regular playing time over the final weeks of the season, the line of Matt Halischuk – Craig Smith – Colin Wilson took advantage of their opportunity on Saturday night to prove to the coaching staff that they will be ready for action if needed in the post season. Throughout the night, the trio made the right plays all over the ice, simplifying their game and not forcing plays, while also showing off their skills in the process. It was the appropriate balance of individual skill and detail in terms of team concepts that had been discussed publicly over the past month regarding what it would take for these players to return to the lineup. Smith finished the night with 3 points (1 goal, 2 assists) and showed that he could handle the defensive responsibilities of playing center throughout the night. Halischuk had a goal and an assist while showing his signature hustle and seeing action on the penalty kill and Wilson finished with an assist and a +2 rating winning battles along the boards throughout the night and showing his puck-handling skill on several occasions to create offense throughout the game. It was a reassuring night from the trio who will likely be on the sidelines to start the playoff run, but could play key contributions if needed as the series play out. 
  • Bourque Finds Right Fit – A key contributor to his team’s playoff successes the past three seasons, a guy that’s shown himself as a big game player, on Thursday night against Dallas, Gabriel Bourque was moved up the lineup to play alongside Alexander Radulov and David Legwand on the Predators second scoring line and has responded with a boost of confidence.  With an assist on the Predators opening goal, Bourque raised his point totals to 3 goals, 5 assists in his last 11 games and also showed great chemistry with his linemates playing his game forechecking hard, winning battles along the wall, and using his skill to create scoring chances for his linemates. Last season after a slow start to his rookie season in the AHL, Bourque responded to a late season promotion to a line with Chris Mueller and Ryan Thang to score 10 points (6 goals, 4 assists) in his final 14 games of the regular season and carried that momentum into the playoffs with 9 points (5 goals, 4 assists) in his first round series against Texas including scoring the game-tying goal at the 19:55 mark of the third period in Game 5 of the Admirals to send the game into overtime where the Admirals rallied for the win.  Prior to turning pro, Bourque won the QMJHL’s Guy Lafleur trophy with the Moncton Wildcats scoring 29 points (19 goals, 10 assists) in 21 playoff games helping Moncton advance to the Memorial Cup finals. With Legwand’s two-way experience and Radulov’s dynamic offensive skill to work with on his line, look for Bourque to be a key contributor throughout the Predators postseason run. 

Stops and Starts

  • With Mike Fisher and Martin Erat sitting out, David Legwand wore the “A” on his jersey as one of Nashville’s alternate captains against the Avalanche.
  • While not picking up the win on Saturday night, Pekka Rinne led NHL goaltenders in wins (43) and points (5) for the season. Rinne became only the second goaltender in NHL history to do so joining Martin Brodeur who has accomplished the feat twice in his career.
  • One of the stories of the 2011-12 season has been the Predators special teams. Traditionally a strong penalty-killing unit, Nashville has historically struggled on the man advantage. This season however that was not the case. Finishing with a 21.6% success rate, the Predators power play finished as the No. 1 rated unit in the League for the first time in franchise history. After a slower start, the penalty kill finished the season strong (going 9 for 9 in the final 3 games) to finish with the 10th best success rate in the NHL at 83.6% making them one of just three teams in the league to finish with both special teams units among the top 10 (Vancouver and Pittsburgh).
  • With their win, the Predators swept the season series from Colorado 4 games to none outscoring the Avalanche by a 17-6 margin over the season.
  • After getting hot over the past few weeks, the Predators AHL affiliate, the Milwaukee Admirals have put themselves in control of their own playoff destiny in the final week of the season. Beginning with a game today at Houston, the Admirals need to get 7 points in their final 5 games of the regular season to clinch a playoff berth. Jeremy Smith has established himself as the Admirals No. 1 goaltender, but with Lindback having to leave the game in Colorado, it will be interesting to watch how the Predators manage their situation in nets moving forward. Atte Engren and Chet Pickard are currently with the Admirals as well. Brodie Dupont, acquired last summer for Andreas Thuresson from the Rangers, has lead the Admirals resurgence recently scoring 10 points (6 goals, 4 assists) in his last 7 games. Dupont missed the majority of the season recovering from an Achilles tendon injury this past summer.
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